Between the a hotly contested GOP U.S. Senate primary -- featuring a three-way faceoff between former Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan, Fairbanks attorney and 2010 U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller, and current Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell -- and a controversial ballot measure that aims to repeal the state's recently passed oil tax reforms (along with the usual slew of state House and Senate races), Alaska voters on Tuesday took part in an election of historic proportions.
Alaska Dispatch News kept a running election blog, updated throughout the day until we closed down election central at the Egan Center in downtown Anchorage.
11:10 p.m. update: Governor weighs in on possible outcomes of Ballot Measure 1
Early in the evening Tuesday, the movement to repeal the oil-tax structure known as SB 21 jumped out to an early and narrow lead in the contest over the oil-tax cut -- with about a quarter of the vote in -- and Alaska Dispatch News caught up with Gov. Sean Parnell at the Egan Center.
Alex DeMarban: So what if ‘Vote Yes’ wins, what do we next as a state?
Sean Parnell: First off, it’s still too early, obviously. But regardless of the outcome, you’ll see the elected leaders -- me as governor, the Legislature -- we’re going to respect the will of the people, regardless of what happens. If ‘No’ wins we’re going to move forward under the More Alaska Production Act. And if ‘Yes’ wins we’re going to proceed under ACES.
AD: Are you surprised it’s this close?
SP: No, with one exception, pollsters were all saying it’s going to be close, but again, with 25 percent in, it’s still pretty early.
AD: Everyone says ACES has a progressivity problem. Would you try to lead an effort to address that?
SP: I’ve led the effort to address progressivity and the non-competitiveness of our regime. That argument by the ‘Yes’ side of this vote that they just want to tweak it or it needs work, that’s a recent argument they’ve been making and they made it as part of this campaign, so I’m very interested to see what they will propose to move forward.
AD: So you’ll leave it up to them if it does win to come back with ideas?
SP: I think by January it will be up to the Legislature and governor at that point in time to decide, but the people, they will have spoken when this is over, either ‘No’ or ‘Yes.’ We’ll either go forward with the more Alaska Production Act, or we’ll go forward with ACES.
AD: If yes does win is it a rebuke against you, do you take it like that?
SP: I take it that it’s about our future and that Alaskans get to choose their future. I have the deepest respect for that. I care deeply about our future as Alaskans and we’re going to keep moving forward.
AD: Anything else you want to comment on?
SP: I’m just thankful for the strong show of support for myself and for Mayor Dan Sullivan to advance the ticket, at 75 percent or so of the electorate said time to move forward. I’m going to continue working to communicate our theme of jobs and families for Alaska.
10:35 p.m. update: Reversal! "Vote No" effort in oil tax debate pulls ahead
With about 38 percent of precincts reporting, the push to repeal Alaska's current oil tax structure is now trailing by 1,069 votes. The margin remains a slim 1 percent with the majority of ballots still to be counted.
10:20 p.m. update: Effort to repeal oil tax expands slim lead
The Vote Yes effort to repeal Alaska's oil tax regime is ahead by 478 votes With 32 percent of ballots reporting. In the high-stakes Republican primary race for U.S. Senate, Dan Sullivan has expanded his lead to 2,000 votes ahead of 2010 primary winner Joe Miller.
10 p.m. update: Results keep rolling, Ballot Measure 1 still close
With a quarter of precincts reporting, the vote on Ballot Measure 1 was still way too close to call, with those in favor of repealing Senate Bill 21 ahead of those against repeal by about 700 votes.
Earlier in the day, Carolyn Kuckertz, press secretary for the state Senate majority, sent a pair of documents to members of the Senate, outlining talking points for the eventualities of Senate Bill 21 remaining in effect or being repealed in Tuesday's vote. Those documents are attached to this article, or view the talking points for an SB 21 victory here, or the talking points for an SB 21 defeat here.
9:20 p.m. update: Results arriving
The first returns are coming into election central, and early numbers show the vote on the oil-tax referendum is a tight one.
With 17 percent of precincts reporting, the effort to repeal Ballot Measure 1 was leading by a mere five votes.
In the contentious Republican senate race, Dan Sullivan was also leading, albeit slightly. Early returns show him leading with 39 percent of the vote, followed by Joe Miller’s 33. Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell trails with 23 percent.
The 17 percent represents a wide swath of the state, from some Republican strongholds in the Mat-Su, as well as rural Nome and Barrow and Democrat-leaning areas of West Anchorage.
It’s too soon to say whether the turnout is strong or not. Early numbers from the state Division of Elections Tuesday showed 9,500 people had voted early Monday evening, almost double than the 5,100 that turned out for the 2010 primary election. In addition, over 13,000 ballots were mailed out to Alaskans who requested them. Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai said about half of those ballots will be returned.
In 2010, 164,047 voters cast ballots, just under 34 percent of all registered voters in the state.
Elections officials -- including Fenumiai -- were set up in a far corner of the Egan Center Tuesday night. Their main job is to oversee the technicalities of elections central, including making sure the returns are making it on to the screens in line election central.
Even with the early returns, things were fairly quiet, with only Bill Walker's gubernatorial campaign and Forrest Dunbar's U.S. House campaign making marches into the center.
9:17 p.m. update: Crossed arms and anxious faces
Election results are starting to come in. The Miller campaign has switched to the TV stream on the sound system, which had been blasting "Born in the USA." Lots of crossed arms and anxious faces.
Two supporters are standing over near where the results are being projected on a wall, pointing and talking.
Miller is leaning against a wall near the back entrance to the building, drinking a Rockstar and skimming the results on his cell phone.
Asked how he was feeling compared to the 2010 election, Miller said he was proud of what he called a "great grassroots response" and volunteer turnout to wave signs on street corners.
"We put it all on the table," Miller said. "Gave it everything we could."
-- Devin Kelly
8:15 p.m. update: At Miller HQ, and breathless
People in cowboy hats and vests are starting to trickle into the Joe Miller campaign headquarters, tucked between a liquor store and cafe at 36th and Spenard.
Miller had not yet arrived -- he's still out waving signs in Midtown, said Adele Morgan, campaign event planner. The room is decorated with red, white and blue balloons and stars.
Supporters were digging into pizza set out on a long table and eyeing a cake with "Joe Miller for US Senate" written in the icing.
Tim Zellow, who works for the campaign, rushed in through the doors.
"We're taking this, dude," he said breathlessly to Morgan.
-- Devin Kelly
8 p.m. update: Meanwhile, at the Alaska Zoo
Think all that oil tax debate advertising was inescapable? We found that many voters were still confused today by the "yes"-means-repeal Prop 1 ballot.
At the Alaska Zoo precinct off O'Malley Road, where a double rainbow was visible overhead, one 47-year-old man who declined to give his name, said his wife read the ballot language of Ballot Measure 1 and at first voted "no." Then she tossed that ballot, got a new one and voted "yes."
Then the two of them researched the measure on his iPhone, called a few friends, and realized she had actually meant to vote "no" after all. When her husband went to the ballot box a half hour later, he voted "no."
"My buddies now are calling us 'The Vote Cancelers,'" he said.
He pulled out his iPhone, where the sample ballot was still loaded on Safari, and indignantly talked through the parts he and his wife found confusing.
"It's horrendous," he said. "My wife's just mad at herself."
-- Devin Kelly
7:30 p.m. update: Winding down at Yes on One HQ
At Vote Yes! Repeal the Giveaway headquarters as evening traffic waned along Northern Lights, a fired-up Nick Moe, volunteer coordinator, jumped in a car to race to Fairview to knock on doors and encourage voters to head to the polls in a last-minute attempt to win support.
"Knock and drag," said campaign manager T.J. Presley.
Things quieted after Moe left and volunteers in the dingy office searched through contacts on smart phone in another late search for voters.
"Down to personal calls now," Presley said, scrolling through his phone while sitting at his desk.
6:30 p.m. update: Small-name gubernatorial candidate boasts big sign
A heavy scrum of sign-waving candidates and supporters blanketed sidewalks at busy intersections of the Seward Highway, Northern Lights Boulevard and Benson Street in Midtown Anchorage on Tuesday.
Senate candidate Joe Miller waved at honking cars in a white button-down and jeans, surrounded by supporters including one woman with a sign in one hand and an infant in the other.
Jerry Hawley, from Point Hope, lofted handwoven baskets with ivory detailing from the sidewalk near the Miller camp. He does the same most days. He had voted but preferred not to talk politics, he said.
Julie Ann Gaul of Shishmaref observed the scene from behind a table stacked with her carvings, beadwork and other art. She said she wasn't a registered voter but was impressed with the dedication of the Miller volunteers, who had been showing up to wave signs just about every day for a week. They'd been getting to know each other.
"From talking to them I'm more informed than from just watching the news," she said.
Business is a bit down due to all the sign waving, though, Gaul said.
"Passers-by don't see me, but I'm OK," she said. She expects business to pick back up soon.
"Tomorrow," she said with a laugh.
Meanwhile, Brad Snowden was, for the most part, going it alone. The Seward hostel owner and Republican candidate for governor admitted he didn't have wide name recognition but said he had good ideas that could be boiled down to "We need to try something different." He'd been doing a lot of his campaigning solo.
His largest sign, propped up by a helium canister, kept blowing over. An unattached man lingering on the sidewalk fixed it.
"I don't know him," Snowden said. "He just walked up and started helping."
Snowden, wearing a "Where's Sarah?" pin, said he'd welcome having Palin as his lieutenant governor. It would be good publicity for the state, he said as cars honked for the nearby No On One campaigners.
Snowden said he considers himself "legally, technically" poor, and his large sign was a way to economize with his limited funds. That's an approach he would take as governor, he said.
"You gotta do a lot with a little," he said.
And then, Snowden put on his bicycle helmet and pedaled off.
-- Michelle Theriault Boots and Alex DeMarban
6 p.m. update: Treadwell, Begich meet at Lucky Wishbone
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mead Treadwell and incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Begich enjoyed an unscripted encounter Tuesday at the Lucky Wishbone, an Anchorage dining institution that's a traditional election day lunch spot for Democrats.
Treadwell heard Begich would be there for a lunch hosted by state Sen. Johnny Ellis and arrived with a gift: a handmade campaign poster that reads, in a reference to Begich's vote for the Affordable Care Act: "Keep your doctor/Dump your Senator."
"I brought Mark a copy just so he could have a keepsake from the campaign," Treadwell said. "And he asked me to sign it for him."
Local radio show host Bernadette Wilson captured the moment in a photo that shows Treadwell, pen in hand, as a grinning Begich looks on.
Treadwell said he had fried chicken with coleslaw for lunch. A spokesman for Begich said the senator had "The Mom" -- three pieces of fried chicken with french fries and a dinner roll, according to a woman who answered the phone at the restaurant.
-- Nathaniel Herz
5:30 p.m. update: Oil tax agitator Ray Metcalfe reveals his next target
With the fur still flying in Alaska's epic oil-tax battle, the man who started the fight hit the streets again, this time to collect signatures to create a ballot initiative he says will prevent legislators from voting on bills when they have a conflict of interest.
Former state Rep. Ray Metcalfe, who last spring launched the repeal referendum that voters are considering today, said he began collecting voter signatures Monday night in a new effort to stop public officials from creating laws that financially help their contributors, employers, business associates or family members.
Doing so would be a Class A felony, for both the contributor and the lawmaker, under Metcalfe's plan.
If such a measure had been on the books, Senate Bill 21 would not have passed, he said. For example, Sens. Kevin Meyer and Peter Micciche, both ConocoPhillips employees, would not have been allowed to vote on Senate Bill 21, the tax cut that primarily benefits BP, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil Corp., Metcalfe said. Without their votes, the measure would have failed.
The issue is much broader than two lawmakers, Metcalfe said. Under his proposal, a public official could not “regulate or legislate competitive advantages for, or direct appropriations to,” themselves or others when they have a conflict of interest.
Micciche and Meyer declared a possible conflict of interest before Senate Bill 21 passed in 2013. But colleagues objected. Legislative rules don’t allow abstentions without unanimous consent.
The state constitution currently says each legislative body makes its own rules, raising questions about whether Metcalfe’s initiative would pass court muster. Metcalfe said he’s planning to create criminal law, not a legislative rule.
“This says not a word about the legislative rules,” he said.
Metcalfe collected signatures outside the Elections Division regional headquarters today in Anchorage. As he worked, voters streamed into the building to decide whether to repeal the tax cut or reinstate Alaska’s Clear and Equitable Share.
He said the application required 100 voter signatures, but he was shooting for 150. If the application is approved, he would then have to gather more than 30,000 valid signatures to put the item on the ballot. Metcalfe aims to have it before voters in fall 2016, he said.
Metcalfe said he would pursue the initiative whether Senate Bill 21 remained in place or not.
-- Alex DeMarban
4:45 p.m. update: Bethel residents drawn to polls by oil tax question
BETHEL -- Outside the Yup’ik museum and cultural center in Bethel on a chilly gray day, a steady stream of voters arrived by pickup and car, by senior bus and taxi, by motorcycle and on foot.
Most said they were drawn to the polls to vote “yes” on Ballot Measure 1, the proposed repeal of Senate Bill 21. But a few said they were too torn to vote on the measure and a couple of others said they voted “no.” Of those who picked the Republican primary ballot, few wanted to say publicly which candidate they chose.
Katrina Domnick, 18, was voting for the first time and said she pushed her boyfriend to vote, too. Both voted “yes” on the measure to repeal Senate Bill 21 and return to the earlier oil tax regime.
“I’ve done a lot of research,” said Domnick, who read up on oil taxes and talked to people in other oil states. While in Anchorage earlier this year, she and her boyfriend, Richard Young, 32, sought out a forum on the oil tax proposal to learn more.
She said she doubted Gov. Sean Parnell’s assertion that the new tax law, which dramatically lower taxes when oil prices are high, is necessary to keep oil companies working here. Oil companies make high profits under either system, she said.
“Why would they be leaving?" Domnick said.
Catherine Peters, 79 and originally from Holy Cross, came on the senior bus just to vote “yes” on the oil tax measure.
“That’s going to help us in the long run,” she said. “I want the oil to work for us.”
But Debbie White, who has been in Bethel since last November and works for the Association of Village Council Presidents, said she believed that keeping the new oil tax system will mean more jobs for Alaska overall.
“I am looking at the whole state,” she said. She voted “no.”
Ulric Ulroan, 37, of Chevak, said he thought hard about the referendum but struggled with feeling “yes, a little bit” and “no, a little bit.” He ended up leaving it blank. He picked the Republican ballot but isn’t that pleased with politicians either.
Democrats and Republicans alike “don’t know our culture,” said Ulroan, who is gearing up for his fall moose hunt. “You don’t know what their background is.”
-- Lisa Demer
2:40 p.m. update: Minor equipment problems at polls; number of early voters up
Alaska Division of Elections officials reported no major problems at polling places across the state through midafternoon Tuesday, though division director Gail Fenumiai said some places were experiencing what she called "typical election day issues."
Fenumiai said voting machines in Fairbanks and Kenai that weren't functioning needed to be replaced, as did memory cards in machines in Yakutat and Homer that failed and needed new cards uploaded.
She didn’t expect either problem to have an effect on voting.
"Voted ballots are stored in the emergency compartment and are scanned at the end of the evening prior to polls being closed," Fenumiai wrote in an email.
Early and absentee vote counts in this primary election, the most expensive in the state’s history, are outpacing those of the 2010 primary, the most recent in a non-presidential year.
More than 9,500 people voted early as of Monday evening, compared to 5,100 for all early voting in 2010, according to the elections division.
Early votes received by last Friday will be counted once polls close Tuesday, Fenumiai said. Absentee ballots people sent by mail will take longer -- and there may be a lot of those. The state sent out 13,086 ballots to people who requested them. Generally, the state sees a little more than half of those come back as completed ballots.
Election workers will count absentee ballots -- filed in-person, online, by fax, by mail or by someone with special needs -- on the seventh day after the election, followed by another count on the 10th day.
Early votes that come in on Saturday or later will be counted on the 10th day too, along with questioned ballots.
The state is hoping to certify the election by a “target” date of Sept. 2, the elections director said.
-- Zaz Hollander
1:30 p.m. update: Miller upbeat as he campaigns in Anchorage
U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller was canvassing on the corner of C Street and Tudor Road in midtown Anchorage Tuesday afternoon alongside a handful of supporters waving signs at the busy intersection.
"I feel pretty good," Miller said as he waved to passing cars.
Miller had canvassed in the Interior community of Fairbanks Tuesday morning before flying to Anchorage, he said. He planned to canvas in midtown for the rest of the afternoon.
In terms of his chances of winning the Republican primary Tuesday, Miller said "we are not by any means overly confident, but we're very encouraged," by the positive responses he has received during his campaign.
"We've worked as hard as we can work," he said.
-- Laurel Andrews
9 a.m. update: Targeting early morning commuters in Anchorage
Primary election day in Alaska brought canvassers to the streets of Anchorage in full force on a sunny Tuesday morning, with campaigns facing off on opposite street corners.
On the corner of Benson and Minnesota, roughly 20 Dan Sullivan supporters wore blue shirts labeled “#standwithdan.” Pumping their signs up and down, they waved as cars raced by, erupting in cheers each time a car honked its horn.
U.S. Senate Candidate Dan Sullivan, who is facing Joe Miller and Mead Treadwell in the Republican primary, showed up around 7.30 a.m. to wave a sign bearing his name.
“I’m feeling good,” Sullivan said.
Across the street, around 10 Begich supporters were waving flags. “Hey it’s politics right, it’s Alaska,” Sullivan about the juxtaposition.
Matt Claman stood among the Begich crowd. Claman said that he’s “supported Begich all along.”
"I think he's a great senator," Claman said.
Claman is running unopposed in the State House primary as a Democrat for the West Anchorage, he said. “By 8 o’clock or so I’ll be waving signs for myself,” Claman said.
At the busy intersection of Benson and Seward, signs for Treadwell, Miller, Begich, the Vote No on 1 campaign intermingled as cars raced passed.
Amid the competing campaign signs, Vic Kohring, a former state lawmaker who pled guilty to a federal corruption charge in 2011, stood alone next to a massive sign bearing his name. Kohring is running for U.S. Senate in the Alaskan Independence Party primary. “I’m running kind of a lonely campaign here,” he joked.
Regina Ward waved a Vote No on 1 sign on Tuesday morning, one of about 20 Vote No on 1 supporters. Wearing a green trench coat and black heels, Ward said she is a BP employee, and that the oil tax issue was personal to her. “I believe in this,” she said.
Ward said she is “optimistic” that the repeal of SB 21 would not pass on Tuesday, but was “a bit nervous if this doesn’t go through what’s going to happen with my job.”
One block over, at the corner of West Northern Lights and the Seward Highway, Gov. Sean Parnell supporters, Joe Miller and Mead Treadwell had all taken up camp on opposing corners.
Treadwell’s sons Tim and Will were waving signs amid roughly a dozen others. When asked about the Joe Miller campaign across the street, Will Treadwell said “we’re not worried about it.”
The younger Treadwell said he was “confident” in his father’s campaign, but “we’re anxious for this evening,” he said.
Across the street, three Joe Miller supporters waved signs among a dozen Miller signs. Miller supporter Amy Walker said her vote for Miller was one for “liberty and America.”
-- Laurel Andrews